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Download the Pilates Article PDFGet Into the Swing of Things!
By Kerrie Lee Brown as published in canfitpro , July 2011

The secret behind why golfers are
increasing their skills on the course.

Golf season is in full swing and golfers are looking for conditioning options to build strength, increase energy, and get in shape for their favourite sport.

For the most part, golf and Pilates share similar fundamentals requiring flexibility, spinal hips and shoulder rotation, and core and gluteal strength. For golfers looking to stay healthy on the greens, Pilates is the ideal golfing partner. While the golf-pro may help correct swings and take strokes off a player's game, the Pilates specialist can improve a golfer's performance, stamina, and stability. These changes can help clients drive the ball farther and avoid the sandtrap of fatigue and injury.

"Golf demands a delicate balance of mental and physical skill," explains President and CEO of Merrithew Health & Fitness™ and avid golfer, Lindsay G. Merrithew. "Pilates enables you to focus on both through mind-body awareness by gaining insight into the inseparable connection between the physical and psychological components of athletic performance. Golfers can take their physical performance to a higher level by training their minds while training their bodies."

Why Pilates

Unlike other strength training regimens traditionally designed for athletes, Pilates focuses on proper sequences of muscle use, thereby improving balance and alignment. Pilates helps develop core strength, increase flexibility, assist with injury rehabilitation, and creates balance throughout the entire body. The benefits are endless. As a result, athletes can withstand rigorous training regimes and ultimately improve their golf drive or baseball pitch, prevent or recover from injury, and maintain an optimal weight for their activity of choice.

"It's a form of overall strength and conditioning used in the development of strong core muscles which also focuses on breathing, balance, and range of motion," says Moira Merrithew, Executive Director of Education for Merrithew Health & Fitness™ and its premier brand STOTT PILATES®.

Interestingly, Pilates is more popular with women but has a higher participation rate among males when related to golf-specific training. According to Moira, the increase in range of movement results in the potential for longer drives. The benefits of Pilates training to the modern-day golf swing are recognized in many national golf schools and coaches are implementing classes into their programs.

STOTT PILATES® Master Instructor Trainer Sally Belanger has worked with athletes of all levels for more than a decade. "Over the last five to ten years athletes of all levels have started to reap the benefits of alternative methods of exercise to increase power, align the body, and work the core muscles," she explains. "As a result, strength trainers are seeking the means to learn the basics of Pilates for their own training programs or they are calling upon certified instructors who work one-on-one with their athletes. Athletes are still training daily, but the focus on conventional weight training has been complemented with the need to work on balance, flexibility, core stability, and mental focus."

Regardless of the sport, Belanger adds that over time, athletes will overuse certain muscles and find 'cheating patterns' or compensatory patterns to perform their particular specific skills and movements," Belanger explains. "Pilates and core training focuses on the stabilizing muscles if a joint is stabilized properly and moves properly, then the sport skill or movement pattern becomes more biomechanically efficient as the larger power-generating muscles can do what they are supposed to do."

When it comes to golf-specific training, Pilates helps increase hip stability, strengthen the deep abdominal muscles and upper midback all essential to improving on the green. Michael Hunt, Golf Pro and Lead Master Instructor at the Jim McLean Golf School adds: "Pilates helps strengthen the core, which is instrumental in the golf game, and having a strong core allows you to set up to the ball correctly and efficiently without pain. When you have the correct address position, you have a better chance to swing correctly. When you're swinging, because Pilates emphasizes initiating from the core through the peripheral limbs, power is generated from the ground up, which will lead to an increase in club head speed."

Hunt also believes Pilates helps in stretching your body. "Most golfers I deal with are inflexible. In fact, Moira Merrithew and I designed a specific program and set up golf-specific stretches, breathing and exercises for any level golfer. Hand-eye coordination and talent is great to have in golf, but the stronger and more flexible your body is the better. That's where Pilates comes into play, literally."

Hunt tries to get his students involved in some type of exercise and stretching before hitting the green. "I think the two most popular forms of exercise for golfers right now are yoga and Pilates. A golfer will see a huge improvement in their game through Pilates."

Sport-Specific Training

STOTT PILATES® has a unique approach to athletic conditioning which has been developed over the years specifically for athletes because it focuses on the deeper muscle groups, or local stabilizers, to find stability and strength. These are key when controlling joint movement and sustaining the stability of the joints that can often be damaged through repetitive and high-demand training. As well, the physical awareness that the athlete gains through a strong Pilates program can aid in their movement control enabling them to increase their level of performance.

"Pilates works on developing kinesthetic awareness of the body, or where it is in relationship to itself, and the world around it. It also focuses on good postural alignment which will help an individual perform a movement efficiently, thus reducing the amount of unnecessary strain on the muscles and joints. Specific strengthening exercises will also help to balance the muscles around a joint and balance pairs of muscles that support the joints," adds Moira. "Pilates will also focus on finding as much symmetry as possible in the athletic body."

Most sports focus on one side or movement in a specific plane of motion. Throwing and shooting sports will often have a dominant side, while sports like running or triathlon focus mostly on movement in the sagital plane. Core training or Pilates helps to strengthen and find stability in all planes of motion as well as an equal balance on both sides of the body.

Matt Nichol, an industry-leading performance coach who is renowned for his innovative approach to training, nutrition, and lifestyle and has helped hundreds of professional and Olympic athletes achieve superior levels of performance. He says Pilates training is an excellent complimentary form of training for his professional clientele.

"I believe that any athlete could benefit in some degree from supplementary Pilates training. The majority of my clientele are NHL hockey players and this sport in particular places huge demands on the spine and pelvis. Hockey players need to make sure that they have superior levels of pelvis stability and endurance of the muscles that stabilize the core in order to ensure healthy performance. Pilates training is an excellent way to re-enforce this."